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Kraft Family Foundation Pledges $20M to Harvard Business School to Advance Precision Medicine

BOSTON – The Robert and Myra Kraft Family Foundation is giving Harvard Business School $20 million to find new ways of addressing the challenges of advancing genomically informed treatments.

The pledge, announced here today at a conference hosted by Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Medical School, is part of Harvard University's $6.5 billion campaign and will create the Kraft Endowment for Advancing Precision Medicine.

Harvard Business School will collaborate with the Broad Institute to use the funds to speed up development of personalized treatments through collaborations between the medical, research, and investor communities in Boston.

The funding will be put toward advancing "the use of the human genome to develop individualized protocols for the treatment of human disease," Richard Hamermesh, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, said at the meeting.

"This gift is directed to the business school with the stipulation that we work with other institutions to achieve that goal," he said. "We want to catalyze collaborations and be a role model for collaborations."

The pledge comes after the loss of Myra Kraft, the wife of Kraft Group CEO Robert Kraft, who died of ovarian cancer in 2011. During her illness Kraft learned about precision medicine from Broad Institute founding Director Eric Lander.

"We didn't get early detection, and she went through seven rounds of chemo," Kraft said. Reflecting on the 15 months of treatment his wife underwent, he wondered why personalized medicine wasn't more accessible and prevalent in healthcare. A major problem he saw was that although Boston was a town of leading medical institutions, they were all working in silos.

"Whether you're running a business or a football team, how do you win?" continued Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots. "It means getting everyone together, putting their egos aside … for the good of the team."

According to Hamermesh, the pledged funds will go toward supporting research and various activities in the field of precision medicine. In the near term, the money will support two challenges that will attempt to identify novel solutions for bridging the gap between scientific advances and commercialization.

The Precision Trials Challenge, which will be led by Hamermesh and another Harvard Business School professor Robert Huckman, will ask people to submit new ideas for speeding up the clinical trials process so that precision treatments and tests can come to market faster. The group or person with the winning idea will receive $50,000.

Robert Califf, nominee for the FDA commissioner post, who spoke at the meeting via satellite, cited research that showed that a high percentage of healthcare decisions aren't supported by evidence. He attributed this to the fact that the global clinical research system is too slow, too expensive, and not reliable. Studies often don't answer questions that are important to patients, Califf said, and therefore, are unattractive to clinicians.

The second pilot will use crowdsourcing to try to break data bottlenecks. This challenge will be led by Harvard Business Professor Karim Lakhani in partnership with Broad Institute and Harvard Catalyst.

In the future, the Kraft Endowment for Advancing Precision Medicine may support research on commercial and financial models; programs to ease the commercialization path for precision products, and back collaborative initiatives and incubation ideas; and support an ecosystem that fosters advances in personalized medicine.

Every year at this same meeting, which is being held for the 11th year, speakers lament the data silos, business uncertainties, as well as the regulatory and reimbursement environments as barriers to personalized medicine. Major changes are coming from the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that will impact the development, commercialization, and payment of advanced diagnostics, which are critical for precision care.

An ecosystem around precision medicine exists today, Hamermesh reflected. "But in my view, it can be vastly improved," he said, adding that he hoped the endowment would lead to real solutions in coming years.